It Takes More than two to tango…

When I was asked by e.mail last October if I wanted to go to Buenos Aires in November for three weeks to learn how to tango dance, I replied “Yes” and hit “Send.” Never gave it a thought as to what I was getting myself in to. Now, a month after returning, I am still running scenes and people, dance steps and dance halls through my mind’s eye and enjoying every moment all over again. Let me share with you what I learned, not only about tango dancing, but about me as well. My destination in Buenos Aires was La Casa de Maria Tango (, a complete home away from home. From the moment I stepped off the plane and Luis Maldonado greeted me, I knew I was in good hands. Incredibly, he understood my Spanish and I understood some of his Spanish. He was to become my teacher for three weeks. When he carried my bags up the stairs in a very old Italian family tenement building, I felt like I was entering another world. My room was called Mano a Mano (hand to hand) and the photo gives you an idea of the height of the room. Maria Teresa, the owner and manager, was there to greet me. When I walked into the kitchen that first day there were four people sitting at the table drinking mate and having a good laugh together. I knew I was “home.” My classes started the second day and that’s when I learned that learning to dance the tango brings all doubts about yourself right up into your face. These doubts laugh as you try to twist on 3” heels and say “What made you think you could do it, huh?” or “Aren’t you a little old to be starting this tango stuff?” Luis would tell me in Spanish to stop thinking because he could feel when I was in my head, which, in the beginning, was often. I was afraid of falling, of hurting myself, of looking stupid, or forgetting what I had just learned…my mind was quite busy. On the fourth day another student joined me in class who had been dancing tango for several years. I fell and stumbled, stepped on his toes and lost all sense of me. When he criticized me for my ineptness, I regressed to 5 years old and ran from the room crying my eyes out to Ute and Maria. They both smiled and told me this happens to everyone at first. They also explained to me that some men simply could not learn to lead. I decided that was his problem and kept trying. Over the weeks I grew up a whole lot and I also learned to say nothing when I goofed—just part of the dance! Over the three weeks, my schedule became a routine—swim at 10 a.m. in a nearby pool, Spanish lesson at 11, tango class at 1 and the first milonga (dance) at 4. These milongas go from 4 to 7 p.m. or so, then another starts at 8 and will go to midnight and then there is usually another on the weekends from 12 a.m. to 4:30 a.m.!! Not for me. However, I managed up to two milongas a day and did better than many younger than me. Books are available listing the hundreds of milongas going on at any point in time in Buenos Aires.

The first time I went to a milonga, I was so excited. I got dressed up to the nine’s, put on my new 3” heeled NeoTango dancing shoes and went off to a famous milonga called Salon Canning. You can go alone or with others, it makes no difference. The culture is quite set. Couples sit at each end of the room. Single women go to the right side of the room usually where tables are set up and drinks will be served. The men go to the other side of the room. And then the game begins. The men must ask first, which didn’t sit well with my “liberated American” ideas, but I came to honor why it goes that way. They usually ask you by nodding their head, lifting an eyebrow or giving a broad smile your way. You then decide. Do I want to dance with him? If yes, you nod back. If no, you look away. No offense. No problem. Free choice. My first milonga I didn’t get asked once because I looked and acted like a beginner. The next time I changed my style and was asked to dance five times! Once a man has made an agreement with a woman, he walks over to her and puts his hand out for her to take. You both walk to the middle of the room and he puts his arms out and you fit yourself into them…left hand very relaxed over his right shoulder and right hand firmly in his left. The music begins, you wait until he starts and then off you go counterclockwise, lifting your legs, doing ochos (complicated step) and generally trying to “feel” what he is telling you with his body. After several days of this routine I started to enjoy letting go, letting him lead and take care of me, and breathing fully. Tango is about letting go for the woman and about being in charge for the man. I like that division of labor. I also liked feeling like a beautiful lady and being told so by dance partners, taxi drivers, and others. In summary, it takes more than two to tango—the music, the hall, the customs, the costumes, the sensuality (about which you have to do nothing except enjoy while you’re dancing), and the pure joy of swinging around a room feeling like you are the most elegant woman on the floor and you have life by the…tail. Buenos Aires here I come again…soon!!! Now if I can just find a milonga near St. Pete Beach… Read More of Cleo’s work here:

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